Friday June 14, 2024

Justice and the judge

By Askari Raza Malik
December 30, 2015

The prevalent system of justice in Pakistan has failed to deliver results time and time again. Very few people are able to afford the time and money needed to counter the frustrating delays, prohibitive costs and grave risks that come with each court case. As a result, the current system ends up aiding the oppressor rather than the oppressed. The beneficiaries range from the offenders, policemen, lawyers and members of the lower judiciary.

The legal procedures are extremely frustrating, irritating and humiliating. Those who are in a weak position rarely opt for a legal recourse in the first place. The case of Zain Rauf, a class 9 student, has pained and angered several people. But the truth is he will soon be forgotten until another person becomes a victim in similar circumstances. The plight of the mothers will never change, which is typical of the inconsolable humiliation of the downtrodden before the mighty.

The people of Swat have nostalgic memories of the Qazi courts under the wali of Swat when justice was delivered within days, if not hours and free of cost. The only redeeming feature of the Taliban’s antediluvian governance was instant justice, albeit crude. When the Taliban ruled Swat, Mangal Bagh was the defacto leader of the suburbs in Peshawar. Those who could reach him sought justice from him that came quickly and at minimal cost. The jirga system in the tribal areas worked perfectly well until the arrival of Islam which prompted clerics to replace the local system with their own form of justice.

During his struggle for the restoration of the judiciary, ex-CJ Chaudhry Iftikhar had reiterated that if justice was restored, it would be the panacea for all social and political ills. He was absolutely correct in his statement, but it unfortunately turned out to be a mere rhetoric. One good outcome of his struggle is that the superior courts are now free, powerful and revered. The system of justice however, still remains shackled.

We lost East Pakistan because of political, judicial and bureaucratic callousness which defied all norms of decency and co-existence. There was a time when the frustrated people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa aspired for a separate ‘Pakhtunistan’ and the Sindhi nationalist leader, G M Syed, wanted an independent Sindh. Today, the unrest in Balochistan manifests the same utter disillusion with the justice system in our country.

We blame political parties for resorting to coercive politics but refuse to address the question of why a peace-loving, educated and cultured community had to turn violence in the pursuit of their rights. We expect the minority communities to be loyal to Pakistan when the state has persistently failed to provide them with justice against unrelenting atrocities. At some point in the history of our country, every community has felt that the very creation of Pakistan was a painful exercise in futility.

If one compares the justice system to Socrates’ parable of a ship, the CJ is the navigator and the captain and crew must give way for the navigator to take charge ‘to take the ship to port’. It is the navigator who commands the crew (the politicians), with the technicians being the law-enforcement agencies (LEAs) and the NAB. As long as the LEAs and NAB remain enslaved, the system of justice will remain paralysed and ineffective.

The CJ has the entire wherewithal. He has the best legal experts and police officers, both serving and retired, who have proven their credentials as genuine professionals, with an uncompromising integrity and courage of conviction. The entire legal system of the country needs an overhaul. The CJ must decide to take charge of the situation. He must task various panels of legal, LEAs and NAB experts to come up with reforms that would meet the aspirations of our people. They must create a system of justice that is affordable and quick in delivering justice. Then, he will be in a position to command the politicians to enact legislations providing constitutional safeguards to the system. In order for this to be successfully implemented, the legal system must be freed from the clutches of the elite and powerful.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, the US police was heavily entrenched in politics. The political leaders at the time employed the police, who in turn helped them remain in power. Police reforms from the early 20th century have effectively depoliticised the police force in the US. Considering the outcome in the US, Imran’s depoliticising of the police in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is a step in the right direction and deserves praise. However, one hopes that this bold measure is backed by legislations to institutionalise the concept.

An autonomous police force and other LEAs with a powerful and independent NAB supported by a buoyant media would give enough power to the CJ to guide this society to the shores of peace, justice and equality. The task is indeed daunting and challenging, but the CJ has several resources at his disposal to aid him in the process.

The Qazi courts, jirga system and even the rogue panchayat system need to be restored and brought under the umbrella of our legal system. If these old institutions function under new rules laid down by our judicial system, a great deal of small and routine cases could be resolved at local levels.

The CJ is one of the best candidates to take on the task of reforming our legal system as he is one of the few people to have the guts to stand up for justice. As cliché as it may sound, the purpose is to bring justice to the doorsteps of the people. Ordinary Pakistanis deserve to live as free citizens and not be subject to a system that is engulfed in flaws and is ruled by business tycoons, feudal lords and sardars.

Justice in society gradually makes people conscious of their obligations towards the government, country and fellow citizens. It is the antithesis to crudeness and callousness. It is the platform where a proud national edifice is eventually built. Justice must be brought back to Pakistan.

The writer is a retired officer from the Pakistan Army.